PURE TERROR MONTH: Guru the Mad Monk (1970)

The Middle Ages were hard times for mad monks. Father Guru (Neal Flanagan) is a corrupt chaplain in the 15th Century, employed in a bizarre prison complex. Assigned to deliver the last rites to condemned prisoners, Guru also carries out punishments like heating up an iron cross and then searing the flesh of sinners while they kneel before him. When prison guard Carl’s girlfriend Nadja (Judith Israel) is locked up, accused of murdering her newborn baby, Carl (Paul Lieber) appeals to Guru to save his girlfriend from execution. In return, Guru enlists Carl’s help to acquire corpses to sell to medical schools for profit. Carl also finds himself indebted to Guru’s secret mistress, Olga (Jacquelin Webb), who gives him the drugs necessary to fake Nadja’s death.  Olga demands that Carl allow her some alone time with all the recently deceased corpses at the prison so that she may drain their blood for use in her ‘experiments’. What she really meant to say was “meals”, since she is a vampire.

Are you still following this?

Guru, who not only likes to date vampires but also has two-person conversations with himself in the mirror, is resentful over the fact that the mother church refuses to send more money to his parish. When Nadja is revived, they hide her in a tower chamber, where she spends her days looking out the window and noticing that people keep coming to the church and never leaving. Sometimes Guru kills them for Olga, and sometimes Olga kills them herself, but Guru has a knack for picking the right ones, especially when they say things like “Nobody knows I came here.” Nadja can’t wait to tell someone about it, bored in her tower chamber while Carl is on a long body-collecting journey for Guru. She also befriends Guru’s hunchback assistant, Igor, who is clearly so in love that he can hardly speak around her.  He has a memorable freakout moment when she shows him the slightest bit of interest and cheerfully asks him questions about himself. 

I’ve always thought of Andy Milligan as the John Waters of horror movies. Although he lacked recurring stars as outrageous as Divine, Edith Massey and Jean Hill, his films are driven by a similar manic energy. Not as earnest as Ed Wood’s cinematic output, Milligan movies usually don’t aspire to be better than they are, they just want to wallow in despicable behavior for an hour and then move on to the next feature. 

Guru the Mad Monk is one of the better examples of the way Milligan’s films take the more ridiculous aspects of the plot for granted. The plot goes on and on with daytime drama involving true love, religious convictions, and the abuse of power, with very little regard given to the fact that one of the characters is a fucking vampire. We are just supposed to accept that she’s a vampire, with no explanation given other than a throwaway line when Guru makes reference to when she was “bitten by that animal!” I kinda want the movie to be about that, ya know? But instead, you just have to go with it, because the movie charges full speed ahead right past it. Don’t worry, it runs just short of a full hour, so it won’t waste too much of your time.

Like Waters, Milligan has a way with dialogue that has to be heard to be believed. I won’t accuse the actors of delivering bad performances with stilted delivery, because actually they are rather convincing in these hopelessly bullshit roles. There’s nothing at all going for this movie without the performances, and I was not disappointed by these actors. Judith Israel is particularly good, channeling Mia Farrow from her hairstyle right down to her crisp, accented diction. 

A period picture is an ambitious concept for an ultra low budget film, and “Guru” has Milligan’s usual Halloween costume look to it. It’s supposed to be the Middle Ages, yet the women all wear modern cosmetics and the lead actress has lovely hair that probably took her Middle Ages hairdresser about an hour to shape for her. I wonder if they came to her tower to do her hair right there. Don’t let your guard down or you may catch yourself thinking this is one of the best ways to spend an hour of your life.

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